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Richard Olney, ALS Researcher and Patient

AP Photo / Jeff Chiu

Being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease didn't stop Richard Olney from fighting for a cure.

Dr. Richard Olney didn't have ALS when he began searching for a cure for the disease. Dr. Olney studied amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease or motor neurone disease, for 18 years before receiving his own diagnosis.

Dr. Olney himself had ALS.

ALS is a neurodegenerative disease, meaning that the patient's neurons, located in the spinal cord and brain, will break down over time. This leads to a loss of muscle control, though the disease doesn't affect the brain itself – patients generally remain sharp and alert even as they eventually lose the ability to talk. The disease is fatal, usually within two to five years.

Before Dr. Olney was diagnosed with ALS, he helped found the ALS Treatment and Research Center at University of California, San Francisco. Over the course of 18 years, he focused on early diagnosis and treatment, developing a clinical trial using drugs known to combat AIDS and cancer to attempt to alleviate or cure ALS.

Once Dr. Olney was diagnosed, he wasn't able to continue his work as a researcher for long – but that didn't stop him from fighting for a cure. He became the first subject of his own clinical trial. It's still too early to tell how effective the drugs used in the trial were… but Olney lived for eight years after his diagnosis, much longer than average. It's a hopeful result for ALS sufferers and their loved ones.

It's not hard to guess what charity Dr. Olney hoped mourners would support in his memory – ALS research. He championed the cause of ridding the world of a devastating disease, and other researchers will continue to follow in his footsteps until a cure is found.